This Year on RealAg: The Biggest Ag Events of 2013


Change is a funny thing โ€” difficult for some, painfully too slow for others. But if we look at a 10-year arc of, say, the grain markets, public policy, food trends and so on, that decade of change features individual events that string together to form a direction and momentum towards real change.

2013 featured more than a few significant events that may or may not have a huge impact on the years ahead. Some most certainly will, though whether the change will be fall out or the beginning of something great, remains to be seen.

First, let’s start on the farm. More specifically, let’s talk about the bins in Western Canada full to bursting with nowhere for the crop to go. 2013 marked a massive crop across the country, and combined with some shipping issues west and south, delivering this crop to the elevator, to the port and to our customers is proving rather difficult. Elevators are full, farmers are waiting months to deliver against contracts and the ports are moving slow. Here’s the hiccup (as if slow to no movement was bad enough): this giant crop is in line with the kind of volume the industry is pushing for. Go for more yield! Feed the world! Export! Export! That’s all fine and good, but with a rail system that can’t (or won’t) move it to port, how do we make the most of all that yield? Improving logistics and rail movement (plus expanding domestic processing?) are a near- and long-term issue that must be addressed.

At the same time, Ontario’s food processing industry, typically coveted by the west, was dealt blows in 2013. The impeding closure of the Heinz tomato processing plant at Leamington will cut the Ontario processing tomato industry nearly in half. Following on the heels of that announcement, was one by Kellogg’s, who in early December also announced the closure of its cereal plant, moving operations to Thailand. Both these plants will close later this year.

Zooming to Ottawa, if 2012 was the year of the CWB monopoly’s demise, then 2013 was the year of Plant Breeders’ Rights. Federal minister of agriculture, Gerry Ritz, announced the introduction of the Agriculture Growth Act in early December. In it, there are several planned changes to the cash advance program and others, but most of the discussion of the bill has centered around bringing Canada finally in line with the UPOV 91 convention (click here for a FAQ piece on Upov 91). This system of plant variety protection will modernize Canada’s royalty system and should bring in new (and keep existing) investment in the variety development here. Click here for a discussion on what this means for the Canadian plant breeding industry.

(While some would have you believe that UPOV 91 strips farmers of the right to save seed, that’s patently false. Canada is the last of two holdouts to adopt this convention. The rest of the developed world runs their variety development systems under UPOV 91 standards and are doing just fine, thank you very much, so let’s put that rumour to bed, shall we?)

Staying with public policy, the Trans Pacific Partnership talk fizzled by the end of the year (I’m sure we’ll here more in the coming months) but the federal government’s announcement of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union caused quite the stir in mid-October. While there’s not denying the immense dollar figures attached to CETA, there are several aspects of the agreement that will be interesting to watch play out: the impact of cheese imports (and the associated heel digging in of Canada’s dairy industry) and the realization that the added beef demand is only for those cattle raised without growth hormones. For an industry that got rather ticked about A&W Canada claiming its “better beef” was raised with no added hormones (and sourcing American and Australian beef to fill its mandate) getting excited about this potential deal means significant changes are in store, indeed.

So much more happened in 2013: The feds announced they were washing their hands of the PFRA pastures, wheat and barley commissions have sprung up across the west, the Ontario racehorse industry is in major jeopardy, and the GMO debate and the term “agvocate” have become daily conversation fodder on social media.

What do you think? What was the biggest ag event in 2013? Leave a comment below!

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